Six years ago, the Denver Broncos pulled off another Super Bowl upset.
Yes, it’s been six years but it feels like so much longer than that given how bad the team has been since Super Bowl 50. Cue the “It’s been 84 years” gif from the movie “Titanic.”
Yet despite how putrid Denver has been, those memories will last a lifetime.
Since it will take a miracle to get the Broncos back to the Super Bowl this season, let’s look back at one of the best seasons in franchise history.
The season no doubt raised the collective blood pressure of every fan but it was still magical.
And if you could bet on the Broncos in 2015, you would probably sweat more than you would in a sauna.
2015 regular season was a wild ride
The season-opening win over the Baltimore Ravens capped by a Darian Stewart interception followed by the Week 2 last-second win over the Kansas City Chiefs when Bradley Roby scooped the fumble and returned it for a touchdown, was the first indication this was the Broncos’ year. And that we were in for a crazy year.
Then came the snow game against the New England Patriots and the walk-off 48-yard C.J. Anderson touchdown. Denver overcame two, 14-point deficits to beat Tom Brady and the Patriots for the first time that season.
The miracle win over the Cincinnati Bengals to keep the Broncos in the hunt for the No. 1 seed.
And then, of course, Peyton Manning returned in the second half to beat the San Diego Chargers and solidify that No. 1 seed.
Those were just some of the miraculous wins in the 2015 regular season.
But that was just the start of feeling like you ran a marathon after a Broncos game.
Broncos wouldn’t be denied in the playoffs
The first was in the AFC divisional round against Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Earlier that season, Denver lost to the Steelers 34-27. Granted, Manning was still out with his foot injury, but Antonio Brown torched the No Fly Zone.
In the rematch at Mile High, Brown didn’t play.
Still, the Broncos needed some late-game heroics, again from Roby. This time, the cornerback forced Fitzgerald Toussaint’s fumble that was recovered by DeMarcus Ware.
From there, Manning engineered yet another game-winning drive capped by a 1-yard Anderson touchdown run and Demaryius Thomas 2-point conversion reception.
Brady vs Manning
The Broncos would add a field goal to make it 23-13 before the Steelers would add a field goal of their own to make it 23-16. Anderson recovered the onside kick to send Denver to the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots.
After getting out to a 17-9 lead in the first half, Brady and New England scrapped back in the second half. The Broncos were limited to 3 points while the Patriots got a late Rob Gronkowski touchdown with the chance to tie the game on a 2-point conversion.
Again, Roby made the game-saving play, this time an interception.
But what fans remember about this game is how dominant Von Miller and Derek Wolfe were on hitting and sacking Brady. Miller finished with 2.5 sacks and an interception, while Wolfe had one sack.
The other play that fans will remember is Manning’s version of the John Elway “helicopter.”
With 9:49 left in the third quarter and Denver facing third-and-10 at their own 20, Manning scrambled 12 yards to pick up the first down. “The run” as Manning dubbed it after the game, helped the Broncos flip field position, which was crucial.
Denver held on and won the game 20-18 to advance to its eighth Super Bowl and second Super Bowl in three years. From a Super Bowl betting perspective, this would have been a great play.
Broncos advance to eighth Super Bowl
Super Bowl 50 felt completely different than the Super Bowl blowout two seasons prior to the Seattle Seahawks.
There was no way the Broncos were going to lose the game, even the sportsbooks thought they didn’t have a chance.
Denver opened as the +4.5-point underdog and it moved +5.5 by kickoff to Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
For the first time in the playoffs, this game was never really in doubt.
Miller and the Broncos defense ensured Newton and Carolina didn’t do anything. In fact, Miller broke Newton in this game and he hasn’t been the same since.
Miller finished with six tackles and 2.5 sacks, including the strip sack that led Denver’s first touchdown.
Miller became just the eighth player in history to win the Super Bowl MVP. He was the first to do since safety Dexter Jackson won the award in Super Bowl XXXVII with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Should Denver have been the Super Bowl underdog?
NFL bettors in Colorado still may question why Denver was the underdog for Super Bowl 50, but it was all because of Manning.
As Johnny Avello, DraftKings Sportsbook director of operations, told PlayColorado:
“The 2016 team, that team was really good defensively but Peyton Manning really wasn’t any good at that time. If you remember that game, he didn’t do much. The defense was brilliant. So that was the difference in that game. I think they were a +4.5 in that game. It wasn’t much more than that. But the public sensed that Peyton Manning was going to get that Super Bowl win. People were talking and I remember the chatter in the book, people were saying how Peyton Manning was going to tie his brother to have as many Super Bowls. So I think there was a good feeling about him winning that game. But there wasn’t a good feeling about how well he was playing at that time.”
After the 24-10 win over the Panthers, John Elway was able to repay Broncos owner Pat Bowlen with “This one’s for Pat.” And, of course, Manning would retire after winning his second Lombardi Trophy.
Six years later, a lot has changed in Broncos Country.
Manning is now in the Ring of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Miller plays for the Los Angeles Rams.
Denver still doesn’t have a replacement at quarterback for Manning.
Thankfully the memories of the third Broncos Super Bowl win can drown out the current state of the franchise.